A long-term study has found that people who munch chocolate frequently do better on tests of cognitive function than those who abstain.
This intriguing finding is from a long-term population study designed to figure out how lifestyle factors affect aging, cardiovascular disease and cognition. The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study recruited people starting in 1975.
Those Who Munch Chocolate a Few Times a Week Test Smarter:
In 2001 to 2006, 968 volunteers went through cognitive tests. Analysis of the data revealed that those who ate chocolate more than once a week had significantly higher scores on tests of visual-spatial memory, organization, scanning and tracking and the MMSE (mini-mental status exam).
The study did not differentiate between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, although prior research suggests that high-flavanol dark chocolate can benefit brain function.
Why Does Chocolate Benefit the Brain?
Previous research has shown that flavanol-rich chocolate supports the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus of the brain (Nature Neuroscience, Dec., 2014). Because this part of the brain is intimately involved in memory, researchers suspect that those who munch chocolate often have better memory capacity.
Cocoa Compounds for Blood Pressure and Heart Disease:
In addition, research has shown that cocoa flavanol compounds can make blood vessels more flexible and lower blood pressure by stimulating the lining of blood vessels to produce nitric oxide (Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine, Dec., 2015). Other studies have shown that those who often munch chocolate with a high flavanol content lower their likelihood of heart disease, heart attack and death from cardiovascular causes (British Journal of Nutrition, Oct. 28, 2014).
Chocolate Against Diabetes?
In addition, cocoa flavanols have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity (Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, online Jan. 29, 2016). Regular consumption might be able to delay the onset of type 2 diabetes, but that would be more likely when you munch chocolate that is low in sugar.
Would You Munch Chocolate to Reverse Wrinkles?
The question is not entirely hypothetical. Research in Korea showed that older women who were given a high-flavanol or a placebo beverage daily for six months had visible differences in their skin. Those consuming the cocoa compounds had more elastic skin and less prominent facial wrinkles (Journal of Nutrition, Jan., 2016).
If you are interested in the benefits of chocolate, you may wish to listen to our People’s Pharmacy radio show on the topic.